The good and the bad of writers festivals (Sydney Writers Festival Series, Post I)

A couple of weekends ago now was the annual Sydney Writers Festival, which I was pleased to discover is now one of top 5 writer's festivals in the world. I am not sure if this is being judged on quantity, quality or some other measure, but however it was decided, I was pleased to hear it.

I went to quite a few of the different events across the weekend. I learnt some interesting things and heard some interesting people speak.

Last year I did one big post summarising my Writers Festival experience, but this year I want to do it a bit differently.

I intend to have a series of posts, each one dedicated to a specific event I attended. Some of these will be quite long, and others will be quite short – but what I hope to achieve at the end is a collection of posts in which I have really made an effort to think about what I heard and learned and share some of that with you.

The good and the bad

In this first post I thought I would just muse a little bit about why I like the Sydney Writers Festival so much. I'm not going to talk about why they important to literary culture or anything quite so deep. Just what I like about the festival, what attracts me to it and why I return every year.

I love the feeling of camaraderie you get at the Sydney Writers Festival. Everyone there shares your interest. You might not like the same genre, you might not have the same political beliefs (and a lot of the festival is quite political) and you might not appreciate the same authors – but you do all appreciate literature in the many forms that it comes. You are all also interested in seeing and learning something new.

People are friendly (apart from the uptight lady in the queue to "My Own Book Review", but that's a whole other story). While queuing for "Cassanda Clare's Underworld" I met two lovely people, both of whom shared their enthusiasm for their favourite genres (crime and science fiction respectively) and authors with me and told me all about who they had seen and what they were looking forward to seeing in the future. I met another lady in the queue to see "A Tribute to Ruth Park" who told me that she rarely reads a book from beginning to end, instead she just dips in and out, reading little bits and pieces in a random order until she feel satisfied enough to move onto the next book.

It's these little insights into other people who share your passion that make me really appreciate how special the Sydney Writers Festival, and other festivals like it, are.

Finally, what I love about it is that I feel as though I am learning. I love reading. I love getting lost in story and language and I appreciate the break it gives me from everyday reality. But the writer's festival takes me one step further. I can appreciate what I enjoy on a more intellectual level. I can go behind the story and the language to discover so many different things, like the author, the political message, the publishing journey, the research and whatever else there is to discover. I feel as though I come out of the weekend with so many different thoughts running through my head that I appreciate my passion on a whole new level. Although this feeling fades pretty quickly (things enter and exit my head rather quickly unfortunately), I always have the memory of all the things that I learnt over the weekend to remind me that there is so much to reading a good book than there seems.

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What I like a little less is that generally I find that I end up spending most of the weekend on my own. Although solitude is often welcome, when I am listening to so many interesting discussions, it would be nice to have someone there with me so that I can carry on the discussion beyond the actual event with someone else who was actually there listening. Instead what happens is that I go home to my wonderful boyfriend and talk for a hour straight about my day, which he is kind enough to listen to, but I know it doesn't really interest him as it would other people.

I am also noticing a trend for more and more of the events to be ticketed rather than free. I know this limits how many events I go to and I am on a decent income. It worries me a little that the more ticketed events the Sydney Writers Festival has, the less people will be likely to attend.

Finally, this probably goes without saying, but I very much dislike queuing. I know that this is an unavoidable part of the festival. It is, however, particularly annoying when you have been queuing for over 30mins only to be turned away at the door because the event is full. I think the organisers really need to develop a new system.

Up next

So, that's my general musings over what the Sydney Writers Festival means to me over. The next post will be about "Cassandra Clare's Underworld" so if you interested in the Mortal Instruments series (or just interested in learning about what motivates an author) keep an eye out for that post.

What is the good and the bad of writers festivals to you?

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